SWJ has the latest Military Review up, and among the articles is The Truth is Out There: Responding to Insurgent Disinformation and Deception Operations by Cori E. Dauber. Read the whole thing. Some of the best parts:
Many insurgent groups in Iraq have a real need to impact U.S. public opinion. For them to accomplish their goals, the U.S. has to withdraw from Iraq. The question was, how to accomplish that. What do they think is our center of gravity? Al-Qaeda knows that the U.S. left Vietnam and has interpreted that to mean that if it creates unacceptable casualty rates and exerts enough pressure, America will leave other theaters as well.8However, the Iraqi insurgents understand they cannot succeed only through their own efforts on the battlefield. Colonel Tovo notes:I would say that at least for Iraq it’s almost always been a media fight. . . . When you look at insurgent movements in history, clearly there are some [insurgencies] that thought they could win militarily. But in the end, really the center of gravity is always the people. You’re always fighting a battle for the hearts and minds of the people, so Idon’t think it has changed with the rise of the internet and cameras everywhere. It’s just easier for insurgents to reach the people. But even when you go back to Algeria,…the media is certainly present, but it’s much less ubiquitous on the battlefield. They’re still looking to get the biggest IO[information operations] effect out of every event.…That’s the same with a lot of insurgencies, although Iwould say the thing about the one we’re fighting now is that there’s much more of an information component and much less of a military component. So whereas you look at the Vietnamese model where truly they thought that they would wear us down and somewhat beat us on the battlefield (although they did not), Ithink the insurgents in Iraq clearly don’t think they have any hope of beating us militarily. It’s purely a fight for influencing the population [and] the U.S. population to lose heart and will, influencing the other international actors to drop support for the U.S. effort. So I’d say the information component has grown in importance over time.9
The Internet, meanwhile, is a door that swings both ways. For the first time insurgents can now monitor the way their efforts are covered in the American press—almost in real time—from thousands of miles away. This is not only the first war fought with unlimited, global access to their audience, it is also the first war fought as the global press has moved online. Even the smallest newspapers now have an online presence, and television networks all stream their coverage on their own websites, to greater or lesser degrees. Insurgents can watch the way their efforts are covered for the audiences they hope to influence and adapt strategies if they do not like what they see. At the same time, they know the Western press carefully monitors their own websites—even if they are designed and maintained predominately to recruit new members or mobilize existing support. Thus, they can use their web presence as a ready conduit through the press to the American audience.
The result is the first war in which virtually every attack is filmed by the enemy for propaganda purposes.10 So many IED attacks on convoys, suicide bombings, executions of hostages, and sniper attacks on Soldiers are filmed that it is often suggested the attacks are being staged to provide material for filming. As Susan B. Glaser and Steve Coll of The Washington Post wrote of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization in Iraq: “[n]ever before has a guerrilla organization so successfully intertwined its real-time war on the ground with its electronic jihad, making Zarqawi’s group practitioners of what experts say will be the future of insurgent warfare, where no act goes unrecorded and atrocities seem to be committed in order to be filmed and distributed nearly instantaneously online.” They continue, “Filming an attack has become an integral part of the attack itself.”11
David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who advised General Petraeus, notes the “‘information’ side of al-Qaida’s operation is primary; the physical is merely the tool to achieve a propaganda result.”12 Lieutenant Colonel Guild adds: “A U.S. Soldier does a pre-combat inspection, he checks and makes sure he’s got his bullets, his water, all that stuff. Well, our enemy is doing that, those pre-combat checks [but they] include making sure that the video guy is there with the camera, with batteries, to either courier that video to some safe house or to get it uploaded to some web site, make sure that…that message gets out. And it’s ingrained. . . . [It] would be unusual if they did not do it.”13
These “duck-blind” videos clearly serve an internal purpose for these groups, but we are missing something critical if we only analyze them from the perspective of the role they play as part of a system of persuasion between the Islamists and their constituents. The videos are also intended, and used, as a way to communicate with and persuade the American audience. Such communication is possible because American news networks, unable to obtain regular combat footage any other way, have systematically downloaded this material and integrated it into their news reports, often quite seamlessly, for years.
Sometimes the segments are used with visual and aural cues indicating they were taken from a terrorist or insurgent site, although the cues are rarely sufficient given that no effort has ever been taken to explicitly address that this is a normal journalistic practice.14 CNN, CBS, and NBC have begun to superimpose the words “INSURGENTVIDEO” on at least some of the material, similar to the graphic all networks use when showing material received from the Department of Defense (usually something along the lines of “DOD FILEFOOTAGE”.) This practice seems to be a perfectly acceptable solution if the networks apply it consistently, and throughout the length of any footage acquired from terrorist or insurgent sites, which does not seem to be the case at present for any network.15 (Applying this solution inconsistently might be worse than not applying it at all, because viewers might believe that whenever the graphic is missing, the footage must by definition not come from insurgent sources.)There should be no mistake about this. Terrorists and insurgents shot this footage of attacks staged for the explicit purpose of providing propaganda for filming. Perhaps more important, terrorists and insurgents edited the footage, even if network personnel subsequently re-edited it. It is propaganda material, not news footage. As Ben Venzke puts it, the “videos are a form of follow-on psychological attack on the victims and societies the group is targeting. They are designed to amplify the effects of attacks.”16The insurgents themselves are now the press’s primary source of news footage when it comes to the vital issue of attacks on American military personnel in Iraq. This means the authenticity of the footage is of vital importance, because it played a critical role in shaping the American public’s view of the war.
Yep. Our own American Main Stream Old Media is the vector for spreading propaganda pathogens undermining the will of the people to prosecute the war. They have been willing and eager accomplices since the invasion of Iraq. How many Americans would be alive today if video of Humvees blowing up had not been turned in to show business?